Conjunctivitis: The Basics

Introduction

Simply put, conjunctivitis is an inflammation of the conjunctiva as a result of an infection. The conjunctiva is a mucous membrane that lines some parts of the eye.  When the conjunctiva is infected, the blood vessels in it become swollen and inflamed. With this inflammation, the eye becomes somewhat red or pink. That is why conjunctivitis is also known as “pink eye”.

Conjunctivitis
Photo Credit: DoctorDoctor

Causes of conjunctivitis

The commonest causes of conjunctivitis are as follows:

Bacteria or Virus: Conjunctivitis can be caused by bacteria or virus, and when this happens, the condition is said to have a high rate of contagiousness. It can even spread by just hand contact. The same type of bacteria that cause staph infections and strep throat is responsible for bacterial conjunctivitis. Viral conjunctivitis is caused by the same virus that causes the common cold.

Allergies: Sometimes, pink eye can be caused by a reaction to substances. Such allergies can be caused by pollen. When pollen grains come in contact with the eyes, the allergen causes the body to produce some histamine. The release of histamine brings about some inflammation as a reaction to a supposed state of infection. Conjunctivitis caused by allergens can be very itchy.

Chemicals: One needs to be cautious to avoid harmful chemicals from coming in contact with the eyes, as they can cause inflammation or pink eye. For example, chlorine, used in domestic swimming pools, is capable of causing the inflammation of the conjunctiva. If your eye comes in contact with such chemicals, you should quickly rinse it off from your eye to prevent irritation which could lead to conjunctivitis.

What are the symptoms of pink eye?

Conjunctivitis or pink eye caused by bacteria or virus is usually highly contagious. This makes it imperative for one to always be alert and attentive to suspicious symptoms. Two weeks after infection, conjunctivitis can be contacted by another. Seek medical attention if you have:

  • Gritty feeling in the eye(s)
  • Itchy eyes
  • The reddish or pinky tone in the eyes
  • Unusual tears in the eyes

A build-up of thick discharge in the eyes during sleep.

Diagnosing pink eye

Pink eye is easy to diagnose. The doctor just has to look at your eye. There might need to ask a few questions. If this does not suffice, some sample might be taken from your conjunctiva to be further analyzed in a medical lab.

How to treat conjunctivitis or pink eye

Pink eye is treated with consideration about the root cause. For instance, conjunctivitis caused by chemical irritants would naturally heal up after a few days once it has been washed off with clean water.

Visit a pharmacy near you to buy eye drops. The eye drops will force some water from your eyes which will help wash your conjunctiva. If you usually wear contact lenses, you might need to temporarily stop until your pink eye is completely gone.

There are a variety of treatment options for pink eye caused by allergies, virus or bacteria.

Treating Bacterial Conjunctivitis: The commonest treatment option for bacterial pink eye is antibiotics. If the infected person is a young child, it is recommended that you use an ointment as it is easier to apply. Antibiotics cause the symptoms to go away in a few days.

Viral Conjunctivitis: Just like any other infection caused by a virus, there is no cure for pink eye caused by a virus. Give it 10 days and you will see the symptoms going away on their own. While waiting for the 10 days to elapse, you may want to press the affected eye with a towel soaked in warm water. Note that this will only soothe, not heal, the symptoms.

Allergic Conjunctivitis: since the inflammation in conjunctivitis is caused by the excessive release of histamine, drugs to check the histamine should be prescribed and administered. Some over the counter antihistamine include loratadine, diphenhydramine, etc. these drugs should help clear the symptoms and conjunctivitis itself. Pink eye caused by allergens can also be treated using antihistamine eye drops or anti-inflammatory eye drops.

How to prevent conjunctivitis

  • Practice good hygiene.
  • Avoid rubbing your eyes unnecessarily. If you must, be sure to wash your hands often.
  • Wipe your eyes or face in general with clean towels, wipes or tissues
  • Avoid sharing such cosmetics and cosmetic tools as mascara, brown powder brush and eyeliner.
  • Wash and change your pillowcase as often as possible.
  • Swap your contact lenses for another type if the current ones you are using cause or might cause inflammation. Do the same if you are using a disinfection solution.
  • Clean or replace your contact lenses from time to time.

Avoid decorative contact lenses or poorly fitted ones. They carry the risk of pink eye.

How to prevent the spread of conjunctivitis

To keep your friends, family, and other loved ones safe from conjunctivitis if you are already infected:

  • Do not share towels or napkins.
  • Wash your hands frequently.

Keep a child infected with conjunctivitis away from school for a minimum of 24 hours until they have started and are responding to treatment.

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